Leaders push for hate crimes legislation in Georgia

CSRA News

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A church bishop joins a Georgia senator and representative to speak out against the lack of hate crimes legislation in the Peach State.

Both Georgia and South Carolina are among just four states without hate crimes laws. Arkansas and Wyoming are the other two.  Without those laws, people who target certain groups, such as when the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta was defaced last year, can go unpunished.

6th District African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Reginald Jackson told NewsChannel 6, when the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes June 11, Senate Bill 166 needs to be addressed.

“Twice it’s passed the house, ” he explained.  “Twice it has been blocked by the senate.  It has been introduced as SB 166 in the senate. And with this tragedy, in fact it’s more than a tragedy it’s a crime, which happened in Brunswick. It only speaks to the need for Georgia to have a hate crimes law.”

While the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery by two white men may have reignited the flame, Bishop Jackson said he spoke to the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus back in 2017 to sponsor hate crimes legislation.  He said he helped get a racial profiling law passed in New Jersey and hopes to do the same with Senate Bill 166, “Georgia Enhanced Penalties for Hate Crimes Act.”  The bill, currently in the Senate hopper, punishes those who commit certain crimes which target a victim because of their race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.

“I think whether it’s the Unitarian Church or whether it’s the lesbian/gay community, I think people need to know up front that those acts will, in fact, have a consequence,” he said adding several narratives where hate crimes exist in the Peach State. He said in a press release, “A 16 year old girl attempted to do at a Black church in Gainesville what Dylan Roof perpetrated at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, three white supremacists were arrested in Floyd County for conspiracy to commit murder and now, an unarmed young Black man, Ahmaud Arbery jogging in Brunswick is cruelly murdered. None of these offenders can be charged with a hate crime in Georgia because the state does not have a hate crimes law.”

We reported back in November 2019, that FBI hate crimes data shows fluctuating cases in Georgia since 2014.  In South Carolina, hate crimes have more than doubled since 2014 with a major decrease in 2016.  Since there are no laws on the books, reporting may be skewed and the Palmetto State reports more than the Peach State. While South Carolina’s hate crimes bill is in a house committee, here’s how some of Georgia’s house members explained their stance last year, as previously reported.

NewsChannel 6 spoke with Georgia State Rep. Jodi Lott, of District 122. She told us, “If we don’t think that we have laws that are effective, then the whole law should change for everybody.” She added the laws that are in place should be used when crimes are committed adding, “Hate crime legislation creates division. It divides people into categories.”

Her colleague, State Rep. Barry Fleming, of District 121, was not on the floor when HB 426 went up for a vote. But he told us, “If you damage someone’s property or you harm them, there are laws in Georgia which already punish you for that. What the hate crime portion does is it punishes your thought. It says you are not allowed to think that way.” Rep. Fleming also added that there was a hate crime on the books in Georgia, but that it was ruled unconstitutional several years ago.

Bishop Jackson will join Georgia Senator Lester Jackson and Representative Al Williams in Brunswick Tuesday to push for hate crimes legislation.  The noon press conference will take place at the Historic Brunswick Courthouse.

But Bishop Jackson said he’s also pushing Governor Brian Kemp to act.

He said, “Gov. Kemp is the head of the Republican party.  Both houses of the legislature in Georgia are controlled by the Republican party.  Governor Kemp needs to demonstrate some leadership and say that he, in fact, supports hate crime legislation.”

Bishop Jackson adds that everyone across the state needs to apply pressure to pass a hate crimes law.

Georgia State Rep. Gloria Frazier plans to push for hate crimes legislation during a press conference Tuesday in Waynesboro at noon.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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